- Last Updated on 08:29 AM 04/02/12
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
Halifax County real estate taxpayers will pay 45 cents per $100 value on their land holdings when they ante up in the coming year.
Supervisors voted 5 to 2 Thursday night to set the tax rate at the equalized tax rate of 45 cents to generate the same amount of revenue as that collected when the rate was set at 43 cents.
Voting against the hike were ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank and ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn. ED-6 Supervisor Wayne Conner was absent from Thursday night’s vote.
Before voting on the budget, Bank said he had received telephone calls from people in his district who were “overwhelmingly against any tax increase.”
Nunn echoed his comments.
“I too have had many calls from people in my district who are opposed to any tax increase,” she said.
Due to the overall drop in land values across the county courtesy of the recent reassessment, the majority of supervisors said they were raising the rate to 45 cents to offset the 3.24 percent drop in the reassessment.
However, ED-4 Supervisor Doug Bowman, who chairs the finance committee, said each property is unique and could be affected differently by the recent reassessment.
“This is the first time in a decade we’ve seen the assessment across the county go down” (on residential properties), Bowman added.
He referred to the newly adopted equalized tax rate of 45 cents saying “45 cents is the new 43 cents.”
A total of 18 persons spoke at a recent public hearing on the budget, and after listening to their comments, supervisors reached a consensus not to raise real estate taxes higher than the equalized tax rate of 45 cents per $100 value.
Earlier, they had discussed the possibility of raising the tax by two more cents to 47 cents, but Thursday night supervisors backed away from that revenue raising option.
Supervisors have been deliberating on the proposed $87.7 million budget all month, a budget draft representing a 4 percent decrease from the current year’s $90.9 million budget.
With no significant extra income being generated by the equalized tax rate of 45 cents, supervisors are now discussing ways to fill a $200,000 budget gap.
Prior to the vote Thursday night, supervisors had faced a $300,000 deficit, but during discussions finance committee members Chairman Bowman, ED-1 Supervisor J. T. Davis and ED-3 Supervisor William Fitzgerald identified opportunities for savings and raising additional revenue fees that narrowed the hole by $100,000.
Included in the proposed savings are the following:
• Eliminate two of five new vehicles from the sheriff’s department budget for a savings of $50,000;
• Increase certain building permit fees to bring in an additional $20,000;
• Install a Voice Over Internet Phone (VOIP) system on county telephones for a savings of $20,000; and
• Implement central purchasing for county departments for a savings of $10,000.
Other pending cost-cutting measures discussed during the finance committee meeting included reducing the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority’s budget by eliminating the salary for an operations manager.
Currently the position is vacant following the resignation of Cynthia King, and the authority is advertising for a replacement.
Kristy Johnson, director of Business Development and Operations at the Energy Center in Riverstone, said Friday she is temporarily handling some of the duties of the operations manager until someone can be hired for the post.
While Johnson is assisting the authority, Energy Center Executive Director Dr. Doug Corrigan is handling her responsibilities at the Energy Center, she said.
Davis suggested cutting the salary for the operations manager position.
“Maybe this will be a little opportunity to give a budget cut to the IDA,” added Bowman.
He suggested the idea be placed on the “pending list for gap closing opportunities.”
Already included in the proposed budget is a $4 monthly user fee for garbage disposal that is expected to bring in an extra $500,000.
Although supervisors are unsure how to collect the fee, County Administrator George Nester offered several options Thursday afternoon.
Among collection methods proposed were the county sending out bi-monthly bills, contracting with Dominion Power and Mecklenburg Electric Company to collect the fee on monthly utility bills, or using the county’s existing 911, personal property or real estate tax lists.
Bowman asked the county administrator to contact other jurisdictions currently collecting a solid waste fee to determine how they bill for garbage disposal service.
“I’d like to pursue partnering with the utility companies to see what that will cost,” he added.
Nester said he would develop a report on collection methods and report back to the board at an upcoming meeting.
County Finance Director Stephanie Jackson discouraged supervisors from dipping into the use of fund (surplus balance) for $200,000 needed to balance the draft budget.
“You still need to be creative about how we’re going to close this budget gap,” she said.
Supervisors added a total of just over $377,900 to five particular line items in the budget after listening to the 18 speakers at a public hearing on the county and school budget March 19.
These additional expenses included reinstatement of the agriculture and natural resources extension agent position for which the county funds one-third of the salary at a cost of $15,330 annually.
An additional $16,153 was added to the library line item bringing its total annual funding from the county to $175,000, $5,000 lower than the originally requested $180,000, and $26,000 was added to the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s budget raising the county’s proposed contribution from $24,000 to $50,000.
The other two increases involved $211,000 to cover the anticipated increase in the premium as the county plans to continue paying 90 percent of the employee-only premium for county workers, and $102,000 was added to cover the 2 percent cost of living raise proposed for county employees.
Supervisors are aiming to approve and appropriate the budget at their regular May meeting.